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CCSD Employee Misconduct Documented in Teams Messages

After the November 2023 release of Teams messages and emails from our initial open records request concerning the district’s actions in causing a dangerous situation at the September 14, 2023 school board meeting, our coalition requested additional records with a broader scope for that week. We were given a stack of over 750 documents in February 2024 detailing multiple instances of misconduct by several employees of Cobb County School District, including Chief Strategy and Accountability Officer John Floresta and almost the entire Communications team.

Note: Because some of the communications involved a student, our coalition had a conversation with that student and her parents to provide them with those communications before we released them to the district and to the public.

Here’s some of what we found:

The District Caused a Dangerous Situation with a Premeditated Move of Public Comment (Then Lied About It)

Teams messages on September 14 show that the district move of public comment at the September board meeting was premeditated and made at least 36 minutes prior to the 6:30pm time for signup. The messages indicate they saw community members lining up as early as 4:26 PM and that by 5:01 PM that there were over 15 in line, the maximum number of commenters allowed.

At 5:54 PM, the decision has been made and Julian Coca, Director of Marketing, says “there’s gonna be fireworks.” That starts a countdown within the Communications team and a message at 6:26 PM from Zachary Alderson confirms the directive came from John Floresta and that they are to go out at 6:28 PM and move the line. The conversation is punctuated by a message from Floresta at 6:52 PM in which he tells Coca and the lead employee in charge of signup “Absolutely perfect.” This is said knowing that students and community members were injured in the dangerous situation caused by the move.

Absent in these messages? Any discussion of safety, the district’s official response to reporter and community questions on why it was moved. The move of public comment caused multiple people in line not to be able to speak, a violation of the First Amendment. But premeditated misconduct that puts community members and students in danger should be unacceptable to the District unless it condones this behavior.

District Employee Julian Coca Inappropriately Accessed a Student's Record

Between September 12 and September 14, 2023, Communications team employees start discussing a high school junior and her article posted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. They find out that the student’s mother might be a member of the Cobb Board of Education and actively strategize how to paint this student accomplishment as being politically motivated. When District Spokesperson Nan Kiel asks to confirm the identity of the student’s mother, Julian Coca clearly posts the results of a search of the student’s record showing the enrolling parent.

Multiple District Employees Discussed Silencing Students and then Picking Them Up in Public Comment Line

On September 13, John Floresta tells Julian Coca that the student who wrote the article is planning on speaking at public comment. Coca then alerts other members of the Communications team. No documents provided by CCSD show how Floresta has obtained that knowledge, but it is highly unethical to violate student privacy and then share the results of that with other employees for the purpose of planning for that student’s attendance at public comment.

Eight members of the Communications team are on the string of messages showing them strategizing on how to potentially prevent the student from speaking. They even discuss how they have successfully prevented students from doing so in the past regarding the name change for Wheeler high school. David Owen says “allowing a kid to speak denies a taxpaying adult the opportunity.”

Eric Rauch says that Zachary Alderson is who the district uses as their “heavy” in these efforts to silence students. That kicks off multiple messages discussing his prowess at picking up public commenters.

Julian Coca and John Floresta Told Wellstar Non-Profit Not to Work With Cobb County Courier

On September 13, Julian Coca messages Felicia Wagner, Executive Director of Cobb Schools Foundation, a non-profit organization governed by a volunteer Board of Trustees separate from the Cobb County Board of Education. In this message, he asks her to tell Wellstar Foundation not to push their announcement of a $2 million grant to Cobb Schools Foundation to support Cobb Innovation Technology Academy students to the Cobb County Courier, a local news organization that the district has decided not to work with. He then asks her not to put that in an email.

Floresta then confirms that Coca has the authority to tell Wagner that. While it is childish for the District not to work with a local news organization, it is unethical for District employees to direct third-party entities to do so, especially those that are non-profits. It is highly likely that these same officials have directed other entities to do the same during the District’s 2-3 year feud with the Courier.

The Marietta Daily Journal Incurs the Wrath of District Officials

The Cobb County Courier isn’t the only news organization to be in the crosshairs of Cobb County School District. In our last Open Records Request, we shared an email from John Floresta to the managing editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution that contained a veiled threat that the District will stop participating with the AJC if it ran stories the District did not like. In messages on September 14, Julian Coca angrily messages Floresta that they are done “helping them out” if the Marietta Daily Journal runs “bullsh– stories like the [Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl] one.”

These are just some of the topics touched on in the 3 days of records requested from the district. Other messages discuss the creation of the American Heart Association Award to counter community voices, that some district officials believe board member Leroy “Tre'” Hutchins has someone directing him what to say in his ear because he wears an ear bud, and disparaging remarks about community members and former teachers.

While not all messages could be provided because the district gave these messages in paper format instead of digital, a majority of them can be viewed/downloaded using the button below.

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